Members of Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang pictured in 2015

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Getty Photographs (Allison Joyce)

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Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh in 2015

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A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night time final July as he led two cows down a observe in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Inside hours he was lifeless, however who killed him, asks the BBC’s James Clayton – the “cow vigilantes” he met on the highway, or the police?

It is 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the obligation physician at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of one thing uncommon.

The police have introduced in a lifeless man, a person they declare to not know.

“What have been the police like once they introduced him in? Had been they calm?” I ask him.

“Not calm,” he says. “They have been anxious.”

“Are they normally anxious?” I ask.

“Not normally,” he says, laughing nervously.

The lifeless man is later recognized by his father as native farmer Rakbar Khan.

This was not a random homicide. The story illustrates a few of the social tensions effervescent away beneath the floor in India, and notably within the north of the nation.

And his case raises questions for the authorities – together with the governing Hindu nationalist BJP occasion.

Cow-related violence – 2012-2019

IndiaSpend map of cow violence

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Rakbar Khan was a household man. He had seven kids.

He stored cows and he additionally occurred to be a Muslim. That may be a harmful combine in India.

“We now have all the time reared cows, and we’re depending on their milk for our livelihood,” says Rakbar’s father, Suleiman.

“No-one used to say something once you transported a cow.”

That has modified. A number of males have been killed lately whereas transporting cows within the primarily Muslim area of Mewat, not removed from Delhi, the place Rakbar lived.

“Persons are afraid. If we go to get a cow they’ll kill us. They encompass our automobile. So everybody is just too scared to get these animals,” says Suleiman.

Everybody I converse to within the village the place the Khans stay is afraid of gau rakshaks – cow safety gangs.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang

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Nawal Kishore Sharma’s cow safety group in 2015

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The gangs typically include younger, hardline Hindus, who imagine passionately in defending India’s holy animal.

They imagine that legal guidelines to guard cows, equivalent to a ban on slaughtering the animals, aren’t being absolutely enforced – they usually hunt for “cow smugglers”, who they imagine are taking cows to be killed for meat.

Usually armed, they’ve been chargeable for dozens of assaults on farmers in India over the past 5 years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which screens reviews of hate crimes within the media.

On 21 July 2018, Rakbar Khan met the native gau rakshak.

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There are some issues we all know for sure about what occurred that night time.

Rakbar was strolling down a small highway with two cows. It was late and it was raining closely.

Then, out of the darkish, got here the lights of motorbikes. We all know this, as a result of Rakbar was with a buddy, who survived.

Cow vigilantes on motorbikes in Yadavnagar, Rajasthan

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Getty Photographs (Enrico Fabian)

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At this level the main points turn into somewhat sketchier. There are three variations of the story.

The gang managed to catch Rakbar, however his buddy, Aslam, slipped away. He lay on the bottom, within the mud and prayed he would not be discovered.

“There was a lot concern inside me, my coronary heart was hurting,” he says.

“From there I heard the screams. They have been beating him. There wasn’t a single a part of his physique that wasn’t damaged. He was overwhelmed very badly.”

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Discover out extra

Watch James Clayton’s report for Newsnight, on BBC Two

The documentary India’s Cow Vigilantes could be seen on Our World on BBC World News and on the BBC News Channel (click on for transmission occasions)

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Aslam says that Rakbar was killed then and there.

However there may be proof that implies in any other case.

A lot of what occurred subsequent focuses across the chief of the native cow vigilante group, Nawal Kishore Sharma.

Aslam claims he heard the gang deal with him by identify that night time, however once I converse to Sharma, he denies he was there in any respect.

Nawal Kishore Sharma
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Nawal Kishore Sharma

“It was about 00:30 within the morning and I used to be sleeping in my home… A few of my group phoned me to say they’d caught some cow smugglers,” he says.

In keeping with Nawal Kishore Sharma, he then drove with the police to the spot. “He was alive and he was advantageous,” he says.

However that is not what the police say.

Of their “first incident report” they are saying that Rakbar was certainly alive once they discovered him.

“Nawal Kishore Sharma knowledgeable the police at about 00:41 that some males have been smuggling two cows on foot,” the report says.

“Then the police met Nawal Kishore exterior the police station they usually all went to the placement.

“There was a person who was injured and coated in mud.

“He informed the police his identify, his father’s identify, his age (28) and the village he was from.

“And as he completed these sentences, he virtually instantly handed out. Then he was put within the police automobile they usually left for Ramgarh.

“Then the police reached Ramgarh with Rakbar the place the obtainable physician declared him lifeless.”

Ramgarh at night

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Ramgarh at night time

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However this model of occasions is very doubtful.

I am going to the hospital in Ramgarh, the place Rakbar was taken. Hospital workers are busily going by way of sure books of hospital information – searching for Rakbar’s admission entry.

After which, there it’s. “Unknown lifeless physique” introduced in at 04:00 on 21 July 2018.

Hospital record of unknown dead body

It isn’t an extended entry, however it contradicts the police’s story, and raises some severe questions.

For a begin, Rakbar was discovered about 12 minutes’ drive away from the hospital. Why did it take greater than three hours for them to take him there?

And if the police say Rakbar gave them his identify, why did they inform the hospital they did not know who he was?

Nawal Kishore Sharma claims to know why. He paints a really completely different image of what occurred to Rakbar.

He tells me that after selecting up Rakbar, they modified his garments.

He then claims to have taken two pictures of Rakbar – who at this level was with the police.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan
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Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan

Sharma says that he went to the police station with the police. He claims that is when the beating actually started.

“The police injured him badly. They even beat him with their sneakers,” he says.

“They kicked him powerfully on the left aspect of his physique 4 occasions. Then they beat him with sticks. They beat him right here (pointing at his ribs) and even on his neck.”

At about 03:00 Nawal Kishore Sharma says he went with some cops to take the 2 cows to an area cow shelter. When he returned, he says, the police informed him that Rakbar had died.

Rakbar’s demise certificates exhibits that his leg and hand had been damaged. He’d been badly overwhelmed and had damaged his ribs, which had punctured his lungs.

In keeping with his demise certificates he died of “shock… because of accidents sustained over physique”.

I ask the obligation physician on the hospital whether or not he remembers what Rakbar’s physique was like when the police introduced it in.

“It was chilly,” he says.

I ask him how lengthy it could take for a physique to turn into chilly after demise.

“A few hours,” he replies.

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“I do not wish to discuss Rakbar’s case,” says Rejendra Singh, chief of police of Alwar district, which incorporates Ramgarh.

Since Rakbar’s homicide a number of cops have been suspended. I wish to know why.

He appears uneasily at me.

“There have been lapses on the police aspect,” he says.

I ask him what these lapses have been.

“They’d not adopted the common police process, which they have been purported to do,” he says. “It was one massive lapse.”

Three males from Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilante group have been charged with Rakbar’s homicide. Sharma himself stays beneath investigation.

The vigilante group and the police blame one another for Rakbar’s demise, however neither denies working collectively that night time.

The way in which Sharma describes it, the police can’t be all over the place, so the vigilantes assist them out. But it surely’s the police that “take all of the motion” he says.

Nawal Kishore Sharma investigates a lorry outside Bilaspur, near Ramgarh, in 2015

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Nawal Kishore Sharma inspects a lorry transporting cows (October 2015)

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A lot police exercise in Rajasthan is concentrated on stopping cow slaughter.

Throughout the state there are dozens of formal cow checkpoints, the place police cease automobiles searching for smugglers who’re taking cows to be killed.

I visited one of many checkpoints. Positive sufficient police have been patiently stopping automobiles and searching for cows.

The night time earlier than officers had had a gun battle with a bunch of males after a truck did not cease.

These checkpoints have turn into widespread in some elements of India. Generally they’re run by the police, typically by the vigilantes, and typically by each.

This will get to the center of Rakbar’s case.

Human rights teams argue that his homicide – and others like his – present that in some areas the police have gotten too near the gangs.

Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh check a suspicious load in November 2015

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The vigilantes discover what they’re searching for (November 2015)

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“Sadly what we’re discovering too typically is that the police are complicit,” says Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, which published a 104-page report on cow-related violence in India this week.

In some areas, police have been reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of violence – and far sooner to prosecute individuals accused of both consuming or buying and selling in beef, he says.

Human Rights Watch has appeared into 12 circumstances the place it claims police have been complicit within the demise of a suspected cow smuggler or have coated it up. Rakbar’s is one in every of them.

However this case would not simply illustrate police failings. Some would argue that it additionally illustrates how elements of the governing BJP occasion have infected the issue.

Gyandev Ahuja is a larger-than-life character. Because the native member of parliament in Ramgarh on the time when Rakbar was killed he is an necessary native determine.

He has additionally made a sequence of controversial statements about “cow smugglers”.

After a person was badly overwhelmed in December 2017 Ahuja informed native media: “To be simple, I’ll say that if anybody is indulging in cow smuggling, then that is how you’ll die.”

After Rakbar’s demise he stated that cow smuggling was worse than terrorism.

Nails used by cow vigilantes to force lorries to stop

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Nails utilized by the vigilantes to pressure lorries to cease

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Gyandev Ahuja is only one of a number of BJP politicians who’ve made statements which are supportive of the accused in so-called “cow lynchings”.

Certainly one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers was even photographed garlanding the accused murderers in a cow vigilante case. He has since apologised.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says it’s “terrifying” that elected officers have defended attackers.

“It’s actually, at this level of time, one thing that may be a nice concern, as a result of it’s altering a perception right into a political narrative, and a violent one,” he says.

The concern is that supportive messages from a few of the governing occasion’s politicians have emboldened the vigilantes.

No official figures are stored on cow violence, however the information collected by IndiaSpend means that it began ramping up in 2015, the 12 months after Narendra Modi was elected.

IndiaSpend says that since then there have been 250 accidents and 46 deaths associated to cow violence. That is prone to be an underestimate as a result of farmers who’ve been overwhelmed could also be afraid to go to the police – and when a physique is discovered it is probably not clear what spurred the assault. The overwhelming majority of the victims are Muslims.

A cow shelter in Ramgarh

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A cow shelter in Ramgarh

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A BJP spokesman, Nalin Kohli, emphatically rejects any connection between his occasion and cow violence.

“To say the BJP is accountable is perverse, inaccurate and completely false,” he tells me.

“Many individuals have an curiosity in constructing a press release that the BJP is behind it. We cannot tolerate it.”

I ask him about Gyandev Ahuja’s inflammatory statements.

“Firstly that’s not the occasion’s viewpoint and we’ve very clearly and unequivocally all the time stated a person’s viewpoint is theirs, the viewpoint of the occasion is articulated by the occasion.

“Has the BJP promoted him or protected him? No.”

However a month after this interview, Ahuja was made vice-president of the occasion in Rajasthan.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajasthan – publicly slapping Ahuja on the again and waving collectively at crowds of BJP supporters.

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In Mewat I converse to Rakbar’s spouse, Asmina.

“Present me the way you increase seven kids with out a husband. How will I be capable of increase them?” she says, wiping away tears.

“My youngest daughter says that my father went to God. When you ask her, ‘How did he go to God?’ she says, ‘My father was bringing a cow and other people killed him.’

“The lifetime of an animal is so necessary however that of a human is just not.”

The trial of the three males accused of his homicide has but to happen, however maybe we’ll by no means know what actually occurred to Rakbar.

In November 2015, photographer Allison Joyce spent an evening following Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilantes within the countryside close to Ramgarh. Certainly one of her pictures exhibits a police officer embracing Sharma, after his group succeeding in catching some suspected cow smugglers.

Although the police now accuse the cow vigilantes of killing Rakbar Khan, and the vigilantes accuse the police, the photograph illustrates simply how carefully they labored collectively.

A policeman embraces Nawal Kishore Sharma after his group chases down a lorry in November 2015

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Within the Indian media there have been claims that the police took the 2 cows that Rakbar had been transporting to a cow shelter, as Rakbar lay lifeless or dying in a police automobile.

There are additionally claims that the police stopped and drank tea as a substitute of taking Rakbar to hospital.

No matter they did, they didn’t take Rakbar to hospital instantly.

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